Skip to main content

Socially distant seating in the COVID-compliant workplace

Before COVID-19, fitting more people into less space was good for your bottom line. Not only to make the most of your real estate but also to encourage more team collaboration. But now, space rules. Literally. The CDC’s guidelines recommend that employees maintain six feet of distance while working in the office. 

One way to meet the CDC’s guidelines is to minimize the number of employees inside your workplace. You can do this through staggered scheduling and adopting a hybrid work model to reduce capacity.

That’s not always feasible or desirable. Even if it were, it’s still essential to guarantee proper social distancing on-site to remain COVID-compliant. That not only requires rethinking where your employees sit but where they walk around the office as well.

Six steps to set up socially distant seating

Social distancing requires more than moving desks six feet apart or blocking off every other seat. Employees travel throughout the day. They go to the bathroom; they print documents; they go to meeting rooms. As you plan out your new seating arrangements, you should first factor in foot traffic flow and note any high-congestion areas. After you map those out, you should have a clearer picture of the space available for your socially distant seating. 

1. Map out foot traffic flow

Before you even get to seating and desk arrangements, you’ll want to think through how an employee will reach their workstation. Employees should be able to travel to and from the main and emergency exits, printers, and other office facilities while passing by the fewest number of people possible. 

In order to enable employees to safely walk throughout the office, you’ll want to create a series of one-way footpaths. This will help employees avoid walking directly past one another while on-site. Your current office setup may not support this. For example, a workstation against your back wall may block your ideal footpath. 

You may have to move desks away from walls to remove dead ends and create space for the new footpaths. If you have ample space to work with, create long paths that loop around the office in a single direction. Even if that’s not possible, small looping paths can reduce the chances of employees passing within six feet of one another any more than they need to.

Tip: Before you welcome employees onsite, walk the office for yourself. Identify any furniture you need to move or areas to close off to create one-way traffic patterns. Note these on your floor map to plan out the footpaths. Then physically mark your floors with tape to direct employees where they can walk around safely. 

2. Identify high-congestion areas

Next, you’ll want to identify any high-traffic areas where employees might visit often or congregate near. Consider printer areas, break rooms, restrooms, and entryways. You’ll want to limit seating near these “busy areas” to give employees more space. Mark these spots on your floor map so employees cannot book those desks or remove the workstations altogether.

If you don’t have a floor map already, it should be straightforward to sketch one out. You could use an official blueprint or draw it out yourself.  Even estimated distances should be accurate enough for the purposes of creating socially distanced desk arrangements. 

Tip: There are some areas where your team cannot avoid face to face interactions, such as your front desk. Install transparent partitions to create a physical barrier where social distancing isn’t always possible. While partitions might not be the peak of office design, they do offer reassurance to your employees and visitors that you are thinking about their health and safety.

3. Create six-foot buffers around desks and other seating areas 

Now that you have a clearer idea of the space you have to work with, it’s time to measure the recommended six feet around each desk. Use a tape measure to create buffers between each seat. The CDC states that six feet is about two arms’ length in distance (in case you don’t want to break out the tape measure). 

Imagine placing a circle with a six-foot diameter around every desk. Block off or remove workstations that aren’t able to adhere to the six-foot distance. Repeat this process for every desk and room in your office, including conference and break rooms.

 Tip: Employees will likely move seats throughout the day—particularly in conference rooms. Use tape or stickers on the floor to indicate where each seat should remain to maintain proper distancing. 

4. Set your workplace capacity

Start by checking local regulations for capacity guidance. Some cities and states have different mandates for how to measure occupancy. Some use square footage to calculate maximum capacity, and certain types of businesses may require more space, like retail or food service. The CDC and local government websites should have up-to-date guidelines. 

Then, evaluate how many seats can fit in your workplace as determined by the first three steps above. That should give you the best idea of how many people can use each area of your office while still maintaining six feet of distance.

Tip: Capacity management can be a daunting task, but with the right technology in place, it’s easier. Use an employee registration tool, like Envoy Protect, to help you automate capacity management. Protect allows you to set a capacity limit for how many people can be in your workplace at any time. Once you meet capacity, Envoy will automatically stop employees and visitors from being able to sign-in to prevent overcrowding and meet social distancing regulations.

5. Use signage to direct and orient

Making changes to your office can be disorienting. Help your employees keep up with new processes by placing clear signage throughout your office to indicate traffic flow, social distancing guidelines, and off-limit areas. 

Bright floor markers spaced six feet apart help employees visualize safe distancing. Colored arrows will remind them which direction is safe to travel in. Even better if you can install digital signage throughout the workplace that you can manage and update remotely. With Safe by Density, digital displays outside of rooms will automatically tell employees if there’s enough space for more people to enter based on the room’s current capacity.

Tip: In addition to creating your seating plan, you’ll want to think through your communication plan. Detail how you are informing employees about updated health and safety protocols before they come on-site. Make it easy for your team to submit feedback along the way so you can iterate and improve.

6. Set up hot desking

Once you have your socially distant seating arrangement planned out, you’ll need to execute it. This is where hot desking technology comes in handy. Look for a tool that will do the heavy lifting for you by making it easy for employees to find and book an available desk when they plan to work in the office. 

Tip: With Envoy Desks, you can designate which desks are available to book, permanently assigned, or unavailable to maintain social distancing. Employees are automatically assigned a desk when they sign in via Envoy Protect, or they can choose a different seat from an interactive map in the Envoy mobile app to sit next to their project team or claim the quiet spot by the window. 

Learn more about setting up easy and flexible hot desking in your workplace with Envoy Desks and digital signage with Safe by Density.

Density measures how people use space in real-time without invading privacy. Using proprietary depth sensors and deep learning algorithms, the platform accurately and anonymously counts people in real-time. Organizations use Density to improve efficiency and enhance the occupant experience in their buildings, workplaces, and real estate. Unlike a camera, Density’s platform doesn’t capture personally identifiable information and is purpose-built for accurately measuring how people use physical space. Together, Density’s customers manage over 1 billion square feet of corporate real estate. Density was founded in 2014, with offices in San Francisco, New York City, and Syracuse, New York. For more information, visit www.density.io.